A review from Hon. Justice Martin Daubney of Australia:
This was my first experience of what is, I am sure, the most valuable conference I have attended as a judge. It will not be my last.
There were no sub-optimal sessions. On the contrary, each and every session of this conference was highly educational, intellectually stimulating, and even entertaining. The fact that the organizers are able to assemble a team of world-leading experts (including a Nobel Laureate) in a wide variety of disciplines means that the content is simply outstanding.Mixing with, and getting to know, an eclectic group of US Federal and State judges, and some overseas interlopers (this year from Canada and Brazil), only adds to the experience.
Hon Justice Martin Daubney
Judge of the Trial Division
Supreme Court of Queensland
A review from Judge John Platt of England:
Harold Medina was a highly regarded US Federal Judge and a great servant of Princeton University, one of the oldest Universities in the USA. When he died in March 1990 the idea of an annual seminar for American state and federal judges had already been conceived principally by John Kern, then Dean of the National Judicial College and Dr Carol Rigolet then Director of the Princeton University Council of the Humanities. It was named in honour of Judge Medina in recognition of his great interest in the humanities.
Out of the comfort zone
From the outset the idea was to take judges out of their legal comfort zones and provide them with a broad range of lectures on the sciences and humanities which would serve to expand the mind and challenge the intellect. The key to the success of this concept is first the scope of topics covered and second the extraordinary quality of the speakers whom the present organisers manage to persuade to give presentations and then to lead the discussions which follow. Another interesting and unique feature of the seminar is that judges’ spouses, partners, and guests are free to attend and do attend all the lectures and contribute to the discussions. This year I was privileged to receive an invitation from one of the Seminar Organisers, Judge Tony Cotter, to be the first English judge to attend the Seminar, which was held at Princeton University from 10th to 15th June. After a welcome dinner on June 10th we heard a strongly free market capitalist discourse on the American economy from John Steele Gordon, a noted historian and commentator.
On Friday morning Professor Michael Sugrue of Ave Maria University gave us a history of human civilization in ninety minutes. He managed to achieve extraordinary depth and focus to what could have been a very superficial survey by using as his analogy the four major advances in basic computer operating systems of the past fifty years. He was followed by Professor Eric Wieschaus, a Nobel prize winner and teacher at Princeton University, who took us deep into the mysteries of the human genome leaving us with a much clearer understanding of why research into molecular biology holds such extraordinary promise for the alleviation of human suffering and at the same time poses fundamental ethical problems which are going to have to be faced by society within the foreseeable future.
A varied afternoon
In the afternoon we listened to Professor Joyce Carol Oates, a successful novelist and teacher of creative writing, whose talk led to a lively discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of the word processor as an editing tool. This was followed by a guided tour of the University where we had an opportunity to admire the Collegiate Gothic style of the main University buildings and also some fine examples of more modern architecture. Our evening was enlivened by a performance by John Eaton, a noted jazz pianist, who entertained us with a broad selection of 20th century American songs.
Music, engineering and art
Our Saturday programme started with a lecture from Professor Scott Burnham of the Music Department of Princeton University, whose talk on the Heroic Beethoven was superlative both in content and presentation. He demonstrated clearly to a very mixed ability audience just how Beethoven from his Eroica symphony onward decisively broke the mould of the classical symphony of the 18th century and moved the whole of Western music forward into the Romantic period. Professor David Billington then spoke to us on key developments in engineering, tracing the history of the telephone, the aeroplane, the transistor and the microchip. In the afternoon Caroline Harris, the curator of the Princeton University Art museum, spoke to us on the French Impressionists and her talk was followed by a guided tour of the Art Museum, which has a rich and varied collection.
Poetry and faith
We were allowed a break on Sunday morning before starting our sessions with a discussion on poetry by Professor Paul Muldoon, now of Princeton and formerly professor of poetry at Oxford University. Having been brought up in Northern Ireland during the troubled times he read us a number of poems on his childhood experiences before leading a discussion on the nature of poetry. His talk was followed by another excellently presented lecture from Professor Ori Soltes of Georgetown University who spoke on the history and development of Islam. The discussion which followed showed us how the teachings of the prophet Mohammed are clearly open to as wide divergence of opinion and interpretation as the doctrines of the Christian and Jewish faiths. We then had a chance to view the fine collection of rare books and ancient maps in the University library and listen to a talk from the President of Princeton University Dr Shirley Tilghman. She spoke most impressively on the current issues facing American Universities including Government proposals to introduce what are in effect SATs, which are causing as much concern in the USA as they have here.
Some law – at last!
On Monday we started with the only law topic of the course, a lecture from Professor George Bermann of Columbia Law School who spoke on the European Union. His elucidation of the origin and development of the different structures of the bodies which make up the law-making functions of the Union and the interaction between European Law and the laws of member states was quite astonishing in its obvious mastery of this field of law and the ability of the speaker to separate out the wood from the trees. If the JSB are able to secure a version of this talk I would commend it to every judge as essential learning on a field of law which is now part of our lives.
Origins of the universe
The process of stretching the mind was then taken to its absolute limit by Professor Suzanne Stagg of the Department of Physics who explained to us her latest research and theories on the origins of the cosmos. We were introduced to the concepts of dark matter and dark energy which make up the vast bulk of the cosmos and which account for the fuzzy lines on your TV when you tune to a channel with no signal. Equally mind-blowing is the theory that although by the laws of Einsteinian physics the cosmos appears to be 13 billion years old, the fabric of space time itself may at the moment of creation have been stretched in a way which would allow matter to travel in excess of the speed of light.
Back to modern times
It was a relief after lunch to get back to more modern times with a lecture by the Associate Director of the new Museum of African American history, Dr Rex Ellis, who spoke to us on the plans for the new museum which will open in Washington in 2015 as part of the Smithsonian complex. We then moved to the University Chapel which is similar in size to Kings College Chapel Cambridge for a talk by the University Organist Dr Eric Plutz, followed by a recital which highlighted the range of the magnificent chapel organ. The final morning was devoted to a survey of international affairs. Professor Gilbert Rozman of Princeton University spoke first on the tangled great power relationships over North and South Korea over the past fifty years which was highly topical in the light of recent events. He was followed by Professor Frederick Hitz from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and formerly an employee of the CIA who spoke on the intelligence failures both of the 9/11 attack and the Iraq invasion and the steps being taken by the new Administration to address the intelligence deficit.
Relevance to judging?
What you may well ask has any of this to do with judging ? Directly the answer has to be very ltttle, apart from a tour de force on the European Union. But Harold Medina and those who have organised these seminars for the past twenty years believe passionately that there is real value to a judge not just as a human being but as a judge in taking him away from his daily grind and stretching his mind. Will a judge be a better judge of a patent claim to part of the human genome if he or she has listened to Professor Wieschaus? Will a judge be a better judge of a civil or family dispute where one or both parties are Moslems if he or she has listened to Professor Soltes? Undoubtedly the answer is yes but it goes well beyond this.
The consistent message from those who have attended this seminar is that the unique educational experience which this seminar provides broadens the mind in a way which makes all those who attend better judges as a result. Having had the privilege of attending this seminar I echo what has been said by many others that this is the best judicial educational experience I have ever encountered and it would be a very small-minded individual who having attended would not agree.